Strategy for Resource Efficiency

The Commission earlier this week presented its long-term strategy for transition to a resource-efficient, sustainable Europe by 2050 in a Communication presented on 26 January 2011. 
“A resource-efficient Europe” is one of the seven “flagship initiatives” (priority themes) set out in the “Europe 2020” strategy that aims to deliver “smart, sustainable and inclusive” growth.

The resource-efficiency initiative sets out a framework to help ensure that long-term strategies in areas such as energy, climate change, research and innovation, industry, transport and environment policy produce results on resource efficiency, the aim being to increase certainty for investment and innovation.

The Initiative aims to help decouple economic growth from the use of resources, support the shift towards a low carbon economy, increase the use of renewable energy sources, modernise our transport sector and promote energy efficiency. Increasing resource efficiency would also help securing jobs and would bring economic opportunities, improve productivity, drive down costs and boost competitiveness.

A resource-efficient Europe

According to the Commission’s Communication three conditions should be fulfilled in order to achieve a resource-efficient and low-carbon economy: 
• take coordinated action in a wide range of policy areas and this action needs political visibility and support.
• act urgently due to long investment lead-times. 
• empower consumers to move to resource-efficient consumption, to drive continuous innovation and ensure that efficiency gains are not lost.

The Initiative aims to create a framework for policies to support the rise of a resource-efficient and low-carbon economy which would contribute to:
• boost economic performance while reducing resource use;
• identify and create new opportunities for economic growth and greater innovation and boost the EU's competitiveness;
• ensure security of supply of essential resources;
• fight against climate change and limit the environmental impacts of resource use.

The Commission stresses that a resource-efficient Europe can only be achieved with a policy mix that optimises synergies and addresses trade-offs between different areas and policies.

"Framework for Action"

The Commission provides a long-term framework for action in many policy areas which will come in the form of a series of “roadmaps” (strategic documents) aiming to:
• create a low-carbon economy in 2050, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95%, as part of global efforts to fight climate change, while improving energy security and promoting sustainable growth and jobs;
• create an energy system by 2050 which is low-carbon, resource-efficient, secure and competitive. 
• create a low-carbon, resource-efficient, secure and competitive transport system by 2050 that promotes clean technologies and modernises transport networks;
• define medium and long-term objectives aiming to to decouple economic growth from resource use and its environmental impact.

Medium-term measures should be consistent with this long-term framework and some of them have already been identified:
• an energy efficiency plan for 2020 identifying measures to achieve energy savings of 20% across all sectors, followed by legislation on the matter;
• proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, Cohesion Policy, energy infrastructure and trans-European networks for transport to align these areas with the requirements of a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy;
• a new EU biodiversity strategy for 2020 to halt further loss to and restore biodiversity 
• measures to tackle the challenges in commodity markets and on raw materials
• a strategy to make the EU a 'circular economy', based on a recycling society with the aim of reducing waste generation and using waste as a resource;
• early action on adaptation to climate change to minimise threats to ecosystems  and human health, support economic development and help adjust our infrastructures to cope with unavoidable climate change;
• water policy prioritising water saving and efficiency measures, in order to ensure that the proper quantity and quality of water and its sustainable use with minimum resource input

Another measure to be taken is “getting the prices right”, meaning that prices should reflect the full costs of resource use to society so that businesses and individuals would be able to adapt their behaviour accordingly. There should be more information provided, making prices transparent to consumers so that resources are not used inefficiently.

The Communication describes its analytical approach that should be followed and presents joint modelling scenarios up to 2050 on climate, energy and transport policies. The modelling is particularly complex considering the fact that resource efficiency requires action in a very broad range of areas. The different EU modelling assumptions are presented in the Annex to the Communication.

The global dimension of resource efficiency

The Communication states three reasons why the EU needs to address resource efficiency issues internationally and to cooperate closely with other countries: 
• there is growing international awareness of the strategic importance of avoiding risks to supply of resources such as rare earths, fishing grounds, land, energy, and water. 
• concerted action at global level can help mitigate the rise in global demand.
• international cooperation can lead to exchanges of skills, technology and best practice, thus having better results in resource efficiency. Working in this area could improve EU’s competitive position.

Governance and monitoring progress

Effective governance and monitoring are necessary to ensure that the EU achieves progress in resource efficiency. The Commission is working to ensure that appropriate indicators are available for monitoring and analytical purposes. The governance and monitoring will take place in the framework of the Europe 2020 strategy and they will be based on an analysis of EU policies and those of individual Member States in their National Reform Programmes as part of the Annual Growth Survey exercise.

Next steps

The Commission will make concrete proposals for strategies to improve resource efficiency in the various policy areas. The Annex to the Communication lists the initiatives foreseen in 2011 to deliver on the resource-efficient Europe: 
• Low-carbon economy 2050 roadmap 
• European Energy Efficiency Plan 2020
• White Paper on the future of transport
• Communication on a 2020 EU biodiversity policy and strategy 
• Communication tackling the challenges in commodity markets and on raw materials
• Revision of the Energy Taxation Directive 
• Roadmap for a resource efficient Europe
• Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy 
• Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy
• Reform of the Cohesion Policy
• Energy infrastructure instrument
• TENT-T revision
• Energy Roadmap 2050
• Smart Grids
• Security of energy supply and international cooperation
• Review of priority substances mentioned in the Water Framework Directive
• Strategy for the sustainable competitiveness of the EU construction sector
• European Strategy and Action Plan towards a sustainable bio-based economy by 2020